Caring during the pandemic
None of us living through this time of the COVID-19 pandemic will ever forget the April of 2020 – our regular routines of work, play and friends disappeared. Suddenly we were stuck at home with not much to do and no end in sight.It was hard, but time moved on. And despite ongoing infections, we all look forward to getting back to everyday life soon with the hope of a vaccine.
But for many people with disabilities, loneliness is a daily thing that doesn't go away. With few options available to them, many depend on the small number of activities and social opportunities, such as a day program or supported employment, for their sense of wellbeing and independence.
James is a member at Jesus Club Jannali and lives by himself in a social housing unit. When Australia went into lockdown at the end of March, his regular activities, including Jesus Club, were suddenly shut down. Almost overnight, James found himself very much alone, and life got hard.
Usually, James has lots of activities to keep in touch with people, including Breakfast Club, Sunday Church, Jesus Club and Joshua's Kitchen. Also, James works with the NSW Council for Intellectual Disability, advising on issues that affect people with an intellectual disability. He also helps at his local church, advising on access issues, and goes to several church conferences. But all these things stopped when COVID hit.
James attending a Jesus Club event with his pet cat
Thankfully, the leaders at Jesus Club Jannali were there to help. The team started a kind of "buddy system" using their dozen or so leaders to follow up their members, giving them regular phone calls to keep connected. Some leaders were able to arrange face-to-face catch-ups, such as a walk or a café visit. They also started a newsletter which they have been mailing to their members every fortnight.
James was followed up by Barry, one of the Jesus Club Jannali leaders. For many Sundays during the lockdown, they had met for a coffee or a walk in the afternoon. Sometimes for just a casual 'how are you going' and other times talking about the Bible talk in the newsletter and praying together."
[Our catch-ups] have been quite important. James and I decide together what we will do each week. Sometimes we talk about Jesus Club stuff too and it's great to get a member's ideas on our group. I think James has been quite encouraged by our time together" Barry said.
Jesus Club Jannali has been learning that, just like in the times of the disciples, "Jesus is with us even when things are tough". It's a simple, reassuring message.
Their newsletters are also helpful. They include a fun comic-strip Bible talk based on the Book of Acts and other activities. The newsletter is regular and fun for the members in lockdown. But most importantly, the Bible focus gives way for leaders and members to talk about how the bible helps us.
When the Jannali club returned to their face-to-face meetings in July, 12 members came on the first night - it was a great night! Even though the club had been on pause for three months, it was clear the group was still keen. The members loved being back again!
For Barry And The Other Leaders, The Lockdown Has Opened Up New Ways For Them To Show The Love Of God And Practise Patience And Kindness (1 Cor 13). Barry Admitted It Wasn't Always Easy To Find The Energy To Follow Up, James, "It's A Bit Hard [At Times]. I Am Sort Of Wanting To Relax On A Sunday Arvo But After I Send My Kids To Youth Church, I Make The Effort To Go And See James." He Is Also Glad He Has Stuck It Out And Now Sees Their Friendship Has Grown.
For James, The Pandemic Seems To Have Prompted An Opportunity For Him To Step Up And Become More Involved With The Group. When The Jannali Club Cancelled Their Third Meeting Due To The Resurgence Of COVID-19 Cases, A Disappointed James Put Himself Forward, Without Prompting, To Address The Shortage Of Leaders,"Well, I Can Help!", He Said.
The Team Are Looking Forward To Working Out How James Can Serve And Are Excited About The Idea Of Members Serving Members. "Nothing About Us Without Us!", Said One Of His Leaders In Support As He Repeated A Famous Disability Slogan.A Feeling Shared By Barry, "I Want Our Members To Come To Jesus Club And Serve Each Other. In The Same Way That You And I Don't Go To Church And Just Sit And Consume – We Want To Love And Serve Each Other As Brothers And Sisters In God's Family."
For The Future, Barry Hopes That Jesus Club Will Help Provide A Place For Each Of Their Members. A Community Where James And Others Can Use Their Gifts To Serve God's People And A Place Where The Members Feel They Truly Belong.
Even as the world looks bleak and uncertain, our faithful god, who never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121) is still in control and he is using these events to shape and minister to those he loves.
For the future, Barry hopes that Jesus Club will help provide a place for each of their members. A community where James and others can use their gifts to serve God's people and a place where the members feel they truly belong.